Around 460 prisoners, including 49 females, have requested pardons or sentence reductions for the upcoming Khmer New Year festivities, with prison officials saying some could see their jail terms reduced from life to 20 years.
Minister of Justice Ang Vong Vathana, who is the chair of the National Committee for Review and Assessment for Pardons and Sentence Reductions, led a meeting on Thursday to review the pardon requests from 18 municipal and provincial prisons and four correctional centres.
Such Sophan Nara, the deputy director-general of the General Department of Prosecutors and Criminal Affairs at the Ministry of Justice, said before Thursday’s discussion that the meeting is to review the requests.
“For these requests, [we] have focused on convicts who have served one-third of their term for sentence reductions and two-thirds for pardons. The committee will thoroughly assess their requests in an accurate manner and mainly based on humanitarian principles."
“The assessment depends on the final verdicts of the court, so we focus on their crimes, whether they were serious or brutal, how they affected society and whether they are repeat [offenders]. The national committee will thoroughly review each case,” he said.
With regards to pardons for female inmates, Sophan Nara said the committee is pushing the issue at the request of Prime Minister Hun Sen as most female inmates had been convicted of minor drug crimes and had small children.
There are currently around 2,441 women in Cambodian prisons.
Sophan Nara said there were traditionally three times a year when pardons and sentence reductions could be requested – Khmer New Year, Water Festival and Visak Bochea Day (Buddha Day) – but last year, at the request of Prime Minister Hun Sen, they can now be sought on Win-Win Policy Day on December 30.
Uch Pong, the deputy director-general of the General Department of Prisons, said 72 convicts had requested complete pardons and seven had asked for a reduction from life imprisonment to 20 years.
There had also been 144 requests for 12-month reductions, 92 for nine-month reductions and 182 for six-month reductions.
“Municipal and provincial correctional centres and prisons have submitted requests to the national committee for review and assessment only. We have not yet convened a meeting to decide how many will be approved, pending all reviews and assessments being completed first,” Pong said.
Adhoc spokesman Soeung Sen Karuna told The Post on Thursday that he wanted to see the pardon and sentence reduction process carried out in a transparent and unbiased manner for all inmates throughout the country, especially for prisoners of conscience in political and land issues and human rights cases.
“I don’t know how accurate the review and assessment process is, but I worry after hearing that most of the inmates who request pardons and sentence reductions had been involved in serious crimes, especially drug offences."
“When deciding on pardons and sentence reductions, the government seems to give more value to those who have committed felonies than [prisoners of conscience] who have helped society."
“The government should consider political prisoners and prisoners of conscience for pardons and sentence reductions rather than those who have committed serious crimes and could harm society again,” he said.
Last year, the ministries of Interior and Justice, which received 321 requests for clemency before Khmer New Year, said amnesty had been granted to 50 applicants.
In addition to eight pardons, another 42 inmates had their prison terms reduced, including six women, Justice Ministry spokesman Kim Santepheap said in April last year.
Santepheap declined to identify the pardoned prisoners or describe the crimes for which they were imprisoned.